By Megan Bernhard
I ate chocolate for breakfast. The days are all the same. Jamie, my college roommate, told me I should make pancakes on Saturday mornings to mark the passage of time. Too late. I made pancakes for lunch yesterday.
Most mornings I wake early and stare out my window. The sky is black and changes to purple. Depending on the weather, the purple changes to grey or pinkish-blue. I lie in bed for an hour, watching the sky, mustering thoughts to tire my brain so I can fall asleep again. But it never works. I listen for my housemate, who usually fries eggs for breakfast. When I hear him washing his pan I pull on socks. By the time I walk downstairs, he’s back in his room. We won’t see each other for the whole day.
This morning, I saw a white streak in the sky. A jet flying east. I used to see many airplanes fly over my neighborhood.
Sometimes I look up flights. BRUSSELS BARCELONA. BRUSSELS MADRID. BRUSSELS LOS ANGELES. Places where I lived and worked, where I’d rather be.
I spoke with friends over video. The connection was bad. Miguel told me I was a blob. Reis asked why I didn’t come to the U.S. I said maybe I’d go in the summer. Vivian asked, “What if you can’t?”
I’m waiting for the universe to make a decision for me.
While walking outside, I saw another plane. I tried to gauge its direction. How many passengers would have been aboard? What must they have been thinking as they sailed above the earth? From up there, you can’t see any of it, but down here the feeling is terrible. The borders are closed, the restaurants are closed. The streets are empty. The hospitals full. None of that is apparent from above, though. Only the jigsaw shapes of the land, the rivers, the mountains, the forests.
Yesterday I was on a different call with a group of young journalists. We were discussing our various quarantines — Berkeley, New York, Los Angeles, D.C., Brussels. I had just taken a shower and was sitting on the bed with my hair wet. Everyone else was itching to report. But sometimes, all I want is to crawl under the sheets and wake up when this is over.
I’ve been haunting the supermarket. It puts me at ease, though everyone wears masks and gloves and turns the opposite direction when I walk down the aisle. I know I shouldn’t go so frequently.
I haven’t taken the metro in weeks. I haven’t taken a bus in longer. I walk to the parks but I don’t linger. The other day I walked a few miles and found myself at the building where I took French classes. I felt sad when I walked by the locked doors. I never really liked French, but I miss it now that it’s gone.
What did I do all day yesterday? The days glide away. (Freelance budgets slashed; no work.)
Coffee, write, eat. Walk. Open window, listen to neighbors. Yesterday I heard a child counting in French. She got to 17. I heard piano keys. The other evening, as I leaned outside my window to applaud for medical workers, saxophone notes drifted into the yard. Once in a while someone rings a cowbell.
Woke with a sore throat. I held coffee grounds to my nose to check that I could smell. Yes. I took a bite of the zucchini bread I made yesterday. Jamie sent me the recipe and I had all the ingredients. The bread was rather tasteless, though — not on account of the virus, I hope, but because I added too few spices. I don’t have cinnamon but I do have nutmeg. In the future, I will add more nutmeg.
After debate, I’ve decided to go to the U.S. I came to Brussels for a master’s but I quit in February. I can’t go back to Spain, where I lived before. My lease is up in a few weeks. My visa expires soon. What more to do?
I’m about to walk to a friend’s house to borrow a suitcase. I’ll pack and store what I don’t immediately need. Bedspreads and pillows. Winter clothes and once-read books.
The church bells are ringing. The people are clapping. I clap a little at my desk but I don’t stick my head out the window.
I cried walking back last night, empty suitcase in tow. The evening was warm. The breeze smelled like flowers. A taunt.
My friend brought me up to her apartment and we had a (socially distant) beer. She talked about the comings and goings of Brussels, the people who leave, the few who stay. She has lived in Brussels for seven years. I have been here for seven months.
The suddenness of my departure feels violent, but that’s the only way to do it.
Today’s to-do list is long. Donate clothes, buy masks and gloves, cook, sweep, mop. Figure out how to fit everything. Nearly three years in Europe amounts to a lot of stuff.
I’ll leave a bag of potatoes, several heads of garlic, a third-full bottle of olive oil, a quarter-full bag of oats, and several cans of green beans and lentils.
Every time I leave somewhere I make inventories. What will stay and what will go. What to throw out. There’s a rhythm to it. Accumulation, reduction, accumulation, reduction.
I’m at the airport. I miss how they were before. The arrivals floor is my favorite. It’s a space of encounter, rife with energy and expectation and tension. There are many joyful encounters — drawn-out embraces, kisses, tears of happiness. I’ve also witnessed arrivals of a different tenor, when it’s clear the arrived does not wish to be there.
At border control, the attendant asked what I had been doing in Belgium. “I live here,” I said. “Or, I lived here.”
“Going home then?” he said.
After a pause, I nodded.